Chocolate Has an Ally in Social Media for Its Seduction of Asia

  • Cargill sees Asian demand outstripping global consumption pace
  • Social media helping spread awareness of products in region

While connoisseurs in developed nations jaded by chocolate’s ubiquity seek out bars that are unique in provenance, aroma and texture, aspiring consumers in large swaths of Asia are still developing their taste for the treat.

In China, for example, “chocolate is not fully part of the diet and preference,” according to Niels Boetje, the managing director for the Asia Pacific region at the Cocoa & Chocolate division of Cargill Inc., one of the world’s biggest agricultural companies. “There is still a lot of growth in China especially through new online channels, and online sales is becoming a big thing,” he said in an interview in Singapore on Tuesday.

As more people discover the pleasures of chocolate, Asian demand is expected to outstrip the pace of consumption globally, according to Boetje. While everything from truffles to the best bean-to-bar varieties are easily accessible to most in the West and in urban regions of the developing world, chocolate continues to retain its status as an aspirational prize for a large part of the population in emerging markets.

“If the economy continues to grow as we foresee it, we also expect that cocoa and chocolate will grow particularly in Asia where you have people moving into middle class incomes and people getting more familiar with the product,” said Harold Poelma, Cargill’s president for cocoa and chocolate.

Social media is also helping accelerate awareness of chocolate to consumers, said Poelma. “Asia has been much much faster than Europe or the U.S. in adoption of social media technology, and that’s a big thing to spread the news,” he said. “It’s much easier nowadays to reach consumers than 20 years ago, when it was more difficult to get that experience with a new product.”

While cocoa prices have tumbled over the past year on forecasts for a surplus, Citigroup Inc. in August said that they may rebound in 2018 as the oversupply narrows substantially. The bank forecast cocoa at $2,250 a metric ton next year. Futures in New York traded at $2,046 at 5:15 p.m. Singapore time on Tuesday.

Asian demand will probably climb 3-4 percent annually in coming years, compared with long-term global growth of 2 percent, according to Cargill. India’s annual growth in chocolate and cocoa consumption over the next 5 years may be close to 15 percent, with demand in Indonesia rising at least 5 percent and the Philippines expanding 6 percent. While demand in China has been flat in the last few years, it may rebound to 3-4 percent going forward.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.